Dover - England's gateway
PUBLISHED: 13:48 21 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:16 26 February 2013
White Cliffs country is a walker's paradise, a gourmet's heaven and the drama of the landscape is phenomenal, making it perfect for a weekend getaway
Dover has always been the gateway to England; its one of the busiest ferry ports in the world, an hour by train to London and only 90 minutes by ferry to Calais.But did you also realise that this town with its surrounding countryside is one of Britains most fascinating places, with masses of things to see and do?
Discover the town and castle
Dover has a compact, part-pedestrianised shopping centre, while the De Bradelai Wharf designer outlet centre in a row of restored warehouses offers discounted fashion and furnishings. Dover Castle (01304 211067, CT16 1HU) has a Roman lighthouse, Saxon church, Norman keep, secret wartime tunnels, plus an underground hospital and operations centre. Theres also a gift shop and caf.
Explore the cliffs
White Cliffs Country is the name thats been coined for five miles of coast and countryside owned by the National Trust. Clifftop walks here command splendid views of the Channel and theres a country park, gift shop and a caf. Here youll also find the South Foreland Lighthouse (01304 852463, CT15 6HP), an historic Victorian lighthouse (note theres no approach road for cars and limited disabled access).
There are restaurants galore in the area and some of the best include: White Cliffs Hotel and the Bay Restaurant, Walletts Court Country Hotel (see below for both), The Coastguard, (see above), The Marquis at Alkham (see above), Hythe Bay Restaurant (01304 207740, CT17 9FS) (closes 9.30pm) and Il Rustico (01304 211110, CT16 1JH).
Try a bit of culture
Dover Transport Museum (01304 822 409, CT16 2JX) has more than 50 motor vehicles on display. The Maritime Room covers the history of Dover harbour and the ferries, while the Railway Room features old street scenes, charabancs and shops. Nearby Walmer Castle (01304 364288, CT14 7LJ) is a Tudor fortification surrounded by gardens with panoramic sea views.
Head for the beach
St Margarets Bay is a lovely sheltered sand-and-pebble beach bay at the foot of the cliffs, near the pretty village of St Margarets-at-Cliffe. Near here is Pines Calyx Garden (01304 851737, CT15 6DZ), a flamboyant landscape with a rock garden, grass labyrinth, tea rooms, lake, childrens sustainability trail and a sense-ability garden.
If you like motor racing, try Lydden Hill International Racing Circuit (01304 830557, CT4 6ET). Known as the friendly track its the UKs shortest road-racing circuit. On 16-17 March it hosts the MSA British Rallycross Championship.
The holiday professional
Jane Holland began Farthingloe B&B (01304 216144, CT15 7AA) because she fell in love with this fine 17th-century former farmhouse set in its own grounds.
Not far Priory station and the ferry port, there are 10 bedrooms, youll get a splendid breakfast, children and well-behaved dogs are welcome and theres secure parking. Were basically a very comfortable, warm, friendly house, says Jane.
What I like about the area are the hills and walks and Dover Castle. Nearby Terlingham Vineyard (077 6722 5453, CT18 7AE) is a wonderful attraction, as is Crabble Mill (closed until summer).
Dovers got it all, really - beaches, the De Bradelei Wharf designer outlet centre, a fine town centre, its on the doorstep of Folkestone and its close to Canterbury, Deal and Sandwich.
What would I say to potential visitors? Dont forget your walking shoes.
Jonathan Hamilton, his wife Kelly and their three young children live in Ashford and regularly visit the area. Jonathan is an electronics engineer and runs a business helping people save money on their utility bills (01233 427447).
We like Walletts Court Restaurant, as well as the White Cliffs Bay Restaurant, and go to both regularly, says Jonathan. And we also love the beautiful Pines Calyx Centre, as well as Kearsney Abbey a lovely open space, ideal for children, with ornamental lakes, a caf and play area. We love Dover and Walmer castles and nearby Deal is a magical town. Were planning to take a day trip on the ferry to Calais.
The hotel manager
Ben Walton is general manager of The Marquis at Alkham (01304 873410, CT15 7DF), an AA five-star restaurant with rooms. Customers like our consistently high standards and our committal to local ingredients, says Ben.
The Alkham Valley is beautiful, the village itself is totally unspoilt and a bit further afield theres so much to see and do: White Cliffs country, Dover Castle, great walking and horse-riding routes, and Samphire Hoe.
The walks between Dover and Folkestone along the Saxon Shore Way are fantastic and this area offers a good base from which to explore East Kent and Romney Marshes. Then theres the link to France, of course.
The pub chef-landlord
Sam Wydymus, chef restaurateur, journalist, radio personality and food historian, owns and runs The Coastguard (01304 851019, CT15 6DY on St Margarets Bays with her husband Nigel. It has the distinction of being the closest British pub to France.
Whether its sunny, rainy, stormy or still, ours is the most beautiful stretch of water in the world, she says. Take the coast road towards Dover from St Margarets and you have the most amazing view of the Dover Straits complete with tantalising glimpses of lighthouses, ships and the French Cost.
I love Farthingloe Farm (01304 212040, CT15 7AA) for its farm shop and superb butcher, and my children love the chickens, animals and the interesting playground. Kearsney Abbey is a fine park, and we love Russell Gardens opposite.
Gavin Oakley, chef and hotelier
Tell us a bit about you
Im an Albert-Roux-trained chef and, together with my siblings and parents, own and run two fine hotels, Walletts Court (01304 852424, CT15 6EW) and its Garden of England Spa and the White Cliffs Hotel and Bay Restaurant (01304 852229, CT15 6AT)
Whats your accommodation like?
Our rooms are all individual. At Walletts Court there are a handful of rooms in converted barns that surround the main manor house, while The White Cliffs hotel accommodation has a coastal, New England feel. Our hotels definitely have a convivial, family run atmosphere
What do you like about the area?
Were in the middle of the coastal strip of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, set back a mile from the edge of the White Cliffs. We have a footpath leading to the South Foreland lighthouse and on to St Margarets Bay, the most beautiful bay in the south east, I think - one of Kents best kept secrets. And Dover Castle is right on our doorstep
Do you work with local businesses?
Yes, in association with local enterprises we run a foraging course for guests, clay pigeon shooting, horse-riding breaks, golf, historical tours, guided walks and more
What do you like about Dover?
Its a town of hidden secrets: scratch the surface and theres history, heritage and culture
Your favourite places?
St Margarets Bay is hard to beat. In summer its beautiful beach is never too busy and its ideal for kids to play in the rock pools
White Cliffs country in a sentence?
It offers visitors an engaging blend of history, heritage and culture in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty thats the gateway of England.
Dover is on the south-east coast, 75 miles from London. The simplest route from London is to go to Folkestone via the M20 from the M25, then take the A20 to Dover. Dover Priory station has links to London via Ashford and Sevenoaks. Theres also a ferry service to Calais.
Satnav postcode: CT16 1TT